Portrayed as a well-dressed, modern young man, a flâneur is one who leisurely strolls through the city without aim. Initially, the flâneur was a literary type, for he was integral to any picture of the modern city streets. Later, the term flâneur became a psycho-social type as well, after being adopted as an emblematic figure of modernity by several writers. The term flâneur derives from the French masculine noun flâneur which translates to stroller or lounger. This French term is in turn derived from the 19th century French verb flâner, meaning to stroll.
The traditional flâneur is characterized by wealth and idleness. He is a decadent dilettante with plenty of idle time which he affords with his wealth. This is the most superficial form of a flâneur. Charles Baudelaire attempted to describe the flâneur in a more artful manner, by depicting the flâneur in a liminal state. He asserts that the flâneur is a joyful spectator who, while away from home, still feels at home everywhere at home within the public space; while he sees the world, he is also at the centre of the world, and even more, he remains hidden from the world, all at once. A richer set of meanings were developed for the flâneur after the publication of Grand dictionnaire universel du XIXe siècle. In the text, flâneur had been given a taxonomy which led to flâneurs of the arcades, mindless flâneurs and acute flâneurs. Transformed from the limited definition of an indulgent stroller, the flâneur began to be viewed more as a philosophical way of living and thinking. Instead of assuming that the flâneurs were simply those who had the luxury of time to aimlessly wander through the urban streets, Walker offered more insight into the motives associated with urban strolling. Under his interpretation, flâneurs were active readers of the environment who were capable of critically examining aspects such as social customs, art, commerce, and politics which are always embedded in the modern city. Walker also gives describes the flâneur within political and socioeconomic context. As a result of the industrial revolution and the modern lifestyle, he dubs the flâneur as a modern hero. This version of the flâneur is referring to those who Walker believes to embody the tendencies and mindsets of modern capitalism, while simultaneously in a constant, personal struggle to shun them.
This word can also be used in architectural discourse to describe those indirectly and unintentionally affected by architectural designs they experienced only in passing. Charles Baudelaire mentions this idea in his writing, stating that we all become instant flâneurs as we are navigating in the city. Today, an application of the flâneur as an urban observer is the street photographer, who uses the camera as a tool to view and capture the picturesque world during his strolling. The flâneur also has a female version, the flâneuse. Although there are different opinions on whether the flâneuse exists, one argument is that she does exist, but in a different form then the flâneur, due to gender differences.
"flâneur, n.". OED Online. September 2012. Oxford University Press. November 20, 2012.
“flâneur” Oxford Reference. 2012. Oxford University Press. November 20, 2012.
Heather Marcelle Crickenberger “The Flâneur” The Arcades Project Project (blog). November 20, 2012.
Wikipedia contributors, "Flâneur," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. November 22, 2012.